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The X-Files – Je Souhaite (Review)

This September, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the seventh season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Harsh Realm.

The late seventh season has something of a twilight quality to it.

Even the show’s production staff are unsure whether the show will be coming back for an eighth season, so every episode takes on a special significance. Could this episode be “the last time that…”? Is Brand X the last time that the show does a traditional monster of the week? Is Hollywood A.D. the last time that David Duchovny writes and/or directs? Is Fight Club the last time that Chris Carter writes a non-mythology episode? Is Je Souhaite the last time that Mulder and Scully just investigate a weird standalone case together? There is a weight to it all.

"I'll drink to that."

“I’ll drink to that.”

Of course, the show would come back for an eighth season. There would be lots of traditional monster of the week stories after Brand X. David Duchovny would enjoy another story and directorial credit after Hollywood A.D. Chris Carter would get to write non-mythology episodes after Fight Club, and even get to direct a much more successful whimsical adventure. Mulder and Scully would get to hang out together in the late eighth season and even at the very end of the ninth. In a very real way, this is not the end.

However, in an equally real way, this is the end. It has become hyperbole to suggest that something “… will never be the same again.” Even The X-Files has reinvented itself at least twice by this point, at the start of the third and sixth seasons. However, it is also perfectly reasonable to argue that The X-Files actually will never be the same again. The show changes on a very fundamental level after this point, with Je Souhaite serving as the very last glimpse of the show as it was. In many ways, this is the end of the road.

"So... meet up in about fifteen years?"

“So… meet up in about fifteen years?”

Gilligan would get to write and direct another episode of The X-Files before the show finally came to an end. In fact, there are a few thematic similarities between Je Souhaite and Sunshine Days, with both stories serving as affectionate and romantic finalés to Vince Gilligan’s version of The X-Files. There are still two full seasons ahead. Indeed, it is interesting to wonder what it would be like had Je Souhaite come earlier in the season, or even during the sixth season; it would be a light and fun episode, but would have the same heft and weight?

However, there is something different about Je Souhaite. In hindsight, it feels like a snapshot of an extended (seven-year-long) moment coming to end; it is a picture in an photo album that captures Mulder and Scully right on the edge of a transition. It is innocuous, yet profound. It is a picture of college friends sharing a drink at the end of the last term, unaware (or silently aware) of how things will change in the coming months. It is a picture of friends just hanging out before one gets married or has children.

"I am outta here!"

“I am outta here!”

Of course, Mulder and Scully see each other after this point; there is the second half of season eight and the revival hanging in the future. (To say nothing of The X-Files: I Want to Believe or the comics.) College buddies still hang out. People with families maintain friendships. Still, those dynamics change. They are never quite the same. Not better, not worse. Just different. As weird as it is to describe an episode where Mulder encounters a genie as “the point before things got weird”, that’s exactly what Je Souhaite feels like.

What is most striking about Je Souhaite is how much the episode accepts that reality. It is not morose or melancholy; it is practically celebratory. Instead of eulogising the good times, it decides to have a good time. There is something very sweet about that.

"I'm still here for two seasons..."

“I’m still here for two seasons…”

Indeed, the final act of Je Souhaite is given over to the idea that life is really just something that happens and that it cannot be manipulated or controlled; a person is not measured by their capacity to assert their will upon reality, but by their ability to accept and acknowledge it. The final act of Je Souhaite takes a bit of a weird turn at the end of what had been a light-hearted and fairly goofy episode, with Mulder being granted three wishes by a magical genie. We’ve come a long way from liver-eating fluke monsters.

The final act of Je Souhaite is very strange because it feels quite separate from what came before, quite distinct from the story of Anson and Leslie Stokes. Although Jenn and her magical powers provide a clear bridge from the story of the Stokes brothers messing with powers they don’t understand to the tale of Mulder dealing with the power to change the world, there is a clear structural divide between the last act of Je Souhaite and the rest of the episode. They are the same episode, but they feel almost like separate stories.

Making an impression...

Making an impression…

In fact, Mulder and Scully draw attention to this weird divide at the end of the penultimate act. After zombie!Anson accidentally blows up the Stokes trailer, Mulder and Scully are left with most of the guest cast gone and the primary case wrapped up in a neat bundle. “I can’t think of anything we have to hold you on,” Scully explains to Jenn. “And, not surprisingly we don’t have any evidence of any of this, so I think she’s free to go.” This might be where any other episode of The X-Files would resolve itself.

But it also seems like the point where Vince Gilligan really gets to the meat of what Je Souhaite is about. Mulder is granted unlimited power, with the opportunity to change the world. He could wish for literally anything; he could wish to be successful, to be immortal, to be eternally youthful. Mulder could wish for a perfect world, for closure, for tidy resolution to everything.  Arriving as the second last episode of what might have been the show’s final season, that is a fairly potent deus ex machina to hand to the lead character.

Naked greed...

Naked greed…

(Indeed, one of the joys of Je Souhaite is how casually it embraces the crazy magical realism of the premise. The X-Files has come along way from the grounded realism of the first couple of seasons, with Mulder literally granted the power to wish away the entire world for about an hour. Je Souhaite completely severs any link between The X-Files and reality, but it feels all the more exciting for that. Even Scully just sort of rolls with the idea that Mulder has three wishes, even if she casually fobs it off on “hypnotism or mesmerism or… something.”)

This feels like something of a commentary on The X-Files itself, particularly at this moment in time. The X-Files was never a perfect television show. There are near-perfect episodes of television in the nine-season run that stand with the very best that the medium ever produced; there are bold ideas and great character populating the show’s extended lifespan. However, the show lacks the same consistency or singularity of purpose as other television landmarks like The Wire or The Sopranos or Breaking Bad.

The sound... of silence...

The sound… of silence…

The X-Files is imperfect, as demonstrated by the fact that Je Souhaite follows directly after Fight Club. The mythology was always a little messy, with faint traces of some its larger structural issues visible in even the earliest of episodes. This season is particularly messy, with the mythology existing in a weird undead state; shambling around as if nobody has bothered to tell it that it died the previous season. The seventh season has a chaotic and random quality, a wildly variable level of quality from episode to episode.

In reality, the show always had these highs and lows. The third season went from Pusher to Teso Dos Bichos, the fourth sandwiched El Mundo Gira between Paper Hearts and Leonard Betts. The zig-zag motion of quality and tone became more erratic with the move to Los Angeles, but The X-Files always had an element of chaos to it. The realities of network television and the demands of long seasons meant that The X-Files could never be perfect. (After all, a lot of the modern contenders for “best show ever” have much shorter seasons.)

"I never thought I'd be on a boat..."

“I never thought I’d be on a boat…”

In hindsight, it is easy to wish that The X-Files was perfect. Not caught up in the immediacy of a production and release cycle, it is easy to wish that the show had never aired Excelsis Dei or that the production team had cut the season order to thirteen episodes starting with the seventh season. Reflecting on the journey, it might even make sense to wish that The X-Files had bowed out gracefully at an earlier point in its run, retiring at the moment that it held rapturous public attention. These reviews have done all of those things.

The final act of Je Souhaite seems like an affectionate shrug. It is an acknowledgement that the world (and the world of The X-Files) is not a perfect place, but also a concession that there is no magic way to wish it all better. The X-Files is what it is, and time spent fixating on what didn’t work or what wasn’t perfect distracts from the very simple and basic pleasures in life. Sometimes it is enough to “sit down somewhere with a great cup of coffee and I’d watch the world go by”, and “enjoying it for what it is instead of… instead of worrying about what it isn’t.”

Mouthing off...

Mouthing off…

It is, after all, the imperfections that make The X-Files so much fun. The fact that the show was never entirely consistent might have led to disasters like First Person Shooter, but it also allowed for crazy experiments like Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space.” It is easy to point out the show’s inconsistencies and errors, but those often came from the trust and freedom Chris Carter invested in his writers. Would a more internally consistent fifth season be worth losing Bad Blood, a brilliant episode that’s hard to reconcile with Mulder’s arc?

As much as The X-Files gets credit for popularising (or maybe repopularising) serialised storytelling on prime-time television, the show did not succeed because the viewer tuned in week after week knowing what to expect. The X-Files was a show that cast a broad enough net that it could produce episodes like Beyond the Sea, One Breath, HomeThe Field Where I Died, The Post-Modern PrometheusDrive, Triangle, X-Cops. Not all of these episodes were perfect, but they were all beautiful and odd in their own unique ways.

"Well, this is the oddest homage to The Silence of the Lambs that we've ever done..."

“Well, this is the oddest homage to The Silence of the Lambs that we’ve ever done…”

Je Souhaite suggests that the end of The X-Files could never really be about Mulder and Scully changing the world or fixing the planet. At this point, it was almost certainly too much to expect the end of The X-Files to offer a satisfying resolution to the show’s lumbering undead mythology. With all of that in mind, the final act of Je Souhaite proposes that the best way to close The X-Files might simply be to let Mulder and Scully share a beer and some popcorn while watching Caddyshack together. It is not a bad closing image for the show.

Indeed, that final scene between Mulder and Scully in Je Souhaite echoes the closing scene between Mulder and Scully in Hollywood A.D., proposing that the real ending to The X-Files would not involve aliens or conspiracies or cigarette-smoking men. Both Je Souhaite and Hollywood A.D. are essentially auteur episodes that were written and directed by crew members treating the episodes as a chance to say goodbye to Mulder and Scully. Duchovny’s more lyrical style has the duo literally exit stage (8) left; Gilligan has them share a beer and a movie.

Jenn Genie...

Jenn Genie…

There is something to be said for the idea that Je Souhaite and Hollywood A.D. might serve as finalés to the show, acknowledging that the real throughline running through The X-Files has been Mulder and Scully, and that the show’s closing image should really focus on them. Indeed, even The Truth manages to wander back to that realisation after a disastrous final season. There is something warm and comforting in that image, life the scene of the two dancing in The Post-Modern Prometheus. This would not be a bad place to leave them.

This might be the most romantic aspect of Je Souhaite, an episode that makes a compelling case for accepting The X-Files for what it was – occasionally flawed and frequently beautiful, random and wonderful in equal measure and often in the same moments. It is an episode that makes a compelling and convincing case to love the show for what it is, rather than for what it wasn’t. It is an ending that accepts the show’s problems without apologising for them, because those problems were also part of its greatness.

Zombie! Zombie! Zombie-ee-ee-ee...

Zombie! Zombie! Zombie-ee-ee-ee…

In fact, Je Souhaite also seems quite comfortable with the idea of saying goodbye to Mulder and Scully. If Je Souhaite argues that part of the show’s brilliance stemmed from its flaws and problems, then the script also suggests that all good things must come to an end; even great things cannot last forever. After Anson is killed by a truck, Lesley wishes for his brother to come back to life. As one might expect in a story like this, he comes to regret it. Je Souhaite suggests Anson was better off dead. “What did you do to me?” he demands.

zombie!Anson is just a long line of undead characters populating the seventh season, beings existing in an ambiguous state between life and death – no longer tethered to the mortal plane but unable to move on. The zombies in Millennium and Hollywood A.D., Samantha in Closure, and arguably even the mythology itself. Even Jenn serves as a cautionary tale about how immortality is not all that it is cracked up to be. As with a lot of the seventh season, Je Souhaite seems to suggest that The X-Files is ready to move on.

A world half empty...

A world half empty…

One of the remarkable aspects of The X-Files is the way that Carter encouraged his writers to develop their own slightly different versions of the show, to write stories with unique and distinct voices. A Howard Gordon episode sounds different than a Darin Morgan episode; a Vince Gilligan episode feels different than a Glen Morgan and James Wong episode. In some respects, it could feel like writers were drafting their own version of The X-Files within the show’s framework; tackling and developing their own themes and motifs.

Je Souhaite feels very much like a series finalé to Vince Gilligan’s version of The X-Files. It feels like this is a final episode of Gilligan’s own little show running in parallel with Chris Carter’s show or John Shiban’s show and overlapping with Darin Morgan’s show or Glen Morgan and James Wong’s show. In that respect, Je Souhaite feels almost like Gilligan taking his own bow; it has a similar “this is where I leave you” feeling to Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space” or Never Again or Kaddish.

Blown away...

Blown away…

Of course, this isn’t where Vince Gilligan leaves us. That’s okay; Darin Morgan stuck around to heavily rewrite Quagmire after Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space”, while Glen Morgan and James Wong oversaw an entire season of Millennium and Howard Gordon collaborated with a bunch of other writers on other scripts after Kaddish. It doesn’t matter that Gilligan gets to write and direct another “last Vince Gilligan script” at the same point in the show’s final season. The fact that Sunshine Days exists does not undermine Je Souhaite.

At the same time, it feels like Je Souhaite marks a point of transition for Gilligan. The future seems to beacon at him. This is Gilligan’s first directorial credit. He would also direct Sunshine Days, but he would go on to become a much more active director on Breaking Bad. Gilligan would direct five episodes across the run of Breaking Bad, bookending the series by directing The Pilot and Felina. In doing so, he would establish a lot of the show’s visual style. There are elements of his fascination with colour to be found in some of Je Souhaite‘s compositions.

"Cerulean blue is like a gentle breeze."

“Cerulean blue is like a gentle breeze.”

Gilligan had always wanted to direct, even before he joined The X-Files in its third season. Indeed, Gilligan has explained that his desire to direct an episode stemmed from his early plans to break into feature films:

I always wanted to make movies, and in my mind, I wanted to do everything – I wanted to write and direct them, I wanted to do the special effects and make the costumes, and all these years later, I’ve been very lucky to have seen that dream fulfilled. Writing is a wonderful career, and I feel very blessed to get to do it, but I wanted to try directing as well. The first time I directed (on Je Souhaite), my plate was already full, and I was really nervous. In the back of my head, I thought, ‘Maybe I should call this off, what if I screw this up terribly and waste 20th Century Fox’s money? What if everyone just thinks I’m a fool and completely screw me up?’ But something kept me going, and I guess it was the self knowledge that if I didn’t take this golden opportunity when I had it, I would forever be looking back and kicking myself in the butt for not having at least tried and failed. Now that I’ve done it, I’ve still got so much to learn, and that’s one of the reason I want to do it again.

It is, in a very practical sense, the culmination of the approach that Chris Carter took to encouraging and grooming his writers. Allowing Gilligan to write and direct an episode is really the final exam in an experience that Gilligan described as “like going back to film school but they are paying us to be there.”

Rolling on out...

Rolling on out…

There is very much a sense that “letting Vince Gilligan direct an episode” was part of the “pseudo-final season bucket list” that included “wrapping up the Samantha thing”, “getting Gillian Anderson to write and direct an episode”, “giving the Cigarette-Smoking Man a terminal illness” and “letting Vince do that Cops thing he won’t shut up about.” For all the flaws with the seventh season, there is an admirable commitment to experimentation. Even if it doesn’t always work out.

It does feel like Je Souhaite is something of a culmination of Gilligan’s work on The X-Files, that the writer and producer is really approaching the limits of what the show can teach him. Indeed, the following season would find Gilligan (along with Shiban and Spotnitz) graduating from The X-Files to overseeing the day-to-day running or an entire series. The Lone Gunmen wouldn’t quite work out as anybody wanted, but it did represent something of an organic and logical development in Gilligan’s career between The X-Files and Breaking Bad.

Mellow yellow...

Mellow yellow…

Je Souhaite feels like a culmination of Gilligan’s work on the show in more than just a professional capacity. The episode is perhaps a little lighter and goofier than most of his scripts, but it neatly summarises a lot of his recurring themes about the human condition. Despite the great gags and the happy ending, Je Souhaite is a surprisingly grim meditation on human nature. If Darin Morgan hides a sense of romance and empathy beneath a bleak exterior, Gilligan tends to conceal relentless cynicism behind some folksy charm and a Chesire Cat grin.

Jenn has, after all, spent five centuries traded as a commodity between people looking to exploit her for personal gain. Jenn is a figure of fantasy or wish fulfillment, but Je Souhaite suggests that the human imagination is often banal and generic – not to mention selfish. “In 500 years, people have not changed a bit,” Jenn notes. “Granted, they smell better now – generally speaking – but human greed still reigns; shallowness, a propensity for self-destruction.” This is a fairly blistering commentary on human nature.

Nixing that election victory...

Nixing that election victory…

To be fair, Jenn is an incredibly (and hilariously) passive-aggressive genie. “I got to specify that you put a boat in the frickin’ water?” Anson complains. “That is a given. Frickin’ white elephant. I can’t even pay the taxes on it.” He has a point, just like Mulder has a point when he criticises her application of his wish for “peace on earth.” He complains, “This has nothing to do with specificity. You don’t have to wipe out the entire population of the whole planet just to effect a little peace on earth and goodwill towards men.”

However, Jenn provides a fairly compelling counter-argument about the reality of human nature. “So you expect me to change the hearts of six billion people?” she inquires. “No religion in history has been able to pull that off. Not Allah or Buddha or Christ.” After all, it could be argued that the conspirators and the aliens were aspiring towards “peace on earth” in their own way, what Jeremiah Smith described as “hegemony… a new origin of species.” Gilligan suggests the only bar to “peace on earth” is mankind itself.

The inside looking out...

The inside looking out…

More to the point, Gilligan’s script for Je Souhaite rejects the idea of altruism in the application of such unwieldy power. Trying to figure out how to use his wishes wisely, Mulder speculates, “The trick would be to make a wish that’s totally altruistic. That’s for everyone.” Gilligan suggests that the human heart is not designed to hold that sort of power, that there is always some measure of ego involved in the application of such authority. It is a very cynical meditation on the human condition, one that suggests people really aren’t all that nice.

In fact, Jenn explicitly calls Mulder out on the selfish motivations that underpin his wish for “world peace.” She wonders, “You’d like me to do that in your name? So… what? You can feel real good about yourself?” There is always an element of ego involved in the exercise of such power, no matter how much rationalisation or justification might be involved. There are shades of Walter White to all this, with his attempts to justify his decision to cook meth in order to provide for his family without conceding the ego involved in his choices.

Just her cup of tea...

Just her cup of tea…

Indeed, a recurring motif in Je Souhaite is the law of unintended consequences. Anson wishes for a boat, and gets a boat without any water. Leslie wishes for Anson to come back and ends up with zombie. Mulder wishes for peace on earth and everybody disappears. This doctrine of unexpected consequences would become a major part of Gilligan’s work on Breaking Bad, as the writer concedes:

“If there’s a larger lesson to Breaking Bad, it’s that actions have consequences,” Gilligan said during lunch one day in his trailer. “If religion is a reaction of man, and nothing more, it seems to me that it represents a human desire for wrongdoers to be punished. I hate the idea of Idi Amin living in Saudi Arabia for the last 25 years of his life. That galls me to no end.”

He paused for a moment and speared a few tater tots in a white plastic-foam tray perched on his lap.

“I feel some sort of need for biblical atonement, or justice, or something,” he said between chews. “I like to believe there is some comeuppance, that karma kicks in at some point, even if it takes years or decades to happen,” he went on. “My girlfriend says this great thing that’s become my philosophy as well. ‘I want to believe there’s a heaven. But I can’t not believe there’s a hell.’”

Indeed, the moral reality of Je Souhaite seems just as stark. Anybody using Jenn is exploiting a woman who has been trapped in a rug for five centuries. It doesn’t matter how superficially innocuous (or how justifiable) their wishes might be, they are tainted by virtue of that fact. (Much like Walter White’s actions are tainted by his decision to cook meth, no matter how sympathetic they might appear.)

Reflections on the human condition...

Reflections on the human condition…

Je Souhaite has a skepticism about the excesses of American capitalism (or imply unchecked materialism) that runs through a lot of Gilligan’s work. Gilligan’s scripts are frequently populated with white men who feel entitled to claim what they feel the world owes them, with little regard for the consequences beyond their own rationalisations and justification. This entitlement takes a variety of forms, from the banal to the monstrous. There is generally some element of self-deceit involved.

In Pusher, Robert Patrick Modell uses his cancer to fashion himself into a ninja assassin. In Paper Hearts, John Lee Roche mythologises his pedophilia. In Small Potatoes, Eddie Van Blundt uses his gift to rape women. In Dreamland I, Morris Fletcher hijacks Mulder’s body and life for his own fulfilment. In Je Souhaite, Anson and Leslie Stokes are obsessed with the idea of material wealth. Anson is introduced reading a catalog of luxury yachts, even though he has no practical purpose for one beyond its use as a marker of material success.

The storage unit of the American Dream...

The storage unit of the American Dream…

One of the episode’s darker jokes has Jenn repeatedly draw attention to Leslie Stoke’s disability as the brother try to figure out what they want. However, Leslie doesn’t seem to realise the possibility of wishing to walk again until the last possible minute. When Jenn suggests it to Anson, he is completely oblivious. When Jenn draws attention to his disability, Leslie comically misses the point. “Yeah, you’re right,” he concedes. “I could wish for a solid gold wheelchair. Man, that’d be sweet.”

There are some interesting gender politics running through Je Souhaite, as there are throughout a lot of Gilligan’s work. Tellingly, Jenn seems to find herself passed among men; whether Benito Mussolini, Anson and Leslie Stokes, or Henry Flanken. Indeed, Flanken died by irony after wishing for that most primal of masculine fantasies after suffering “chronic morbid tumescence.” He was literally murdered by his own masculinity. Even at the end, Jenn finds herself passed to Mulder rather to Scully.

"SCHWING!"

“SCHWING!”

Meanwhile, Jenn skulks around in the background – a woman standing in the shadow of so-called “great men” who only succeeded through her intervention. One of the jokes of Je Souhaite is that Jenn seemed invisible while standing beside Mussolini and Nixon, despite holding all the power. Gilligan’s fascination with masculine mythmaking would build to a climax in Breaking Bad and its meditations on stereotypes of masculine success:

While we may want to cheer for the character we’ve been identifying with for so long, what are we really cheering? What standards of success are we tacitly endorsing when we feel just a little bit pleased that Walt got to live — and die — “like a man”? The masculinity described in Breaking Bad is something deeply pernicious, a cultural dogma that damages, warps and limits men, isolating them from their emotions and from others. It promotes violence, retribution, and a hierarchy built upon the backs victims both male and female. Sometimes, it kills them. As Silpa Kovvari at The Atlantic observed, the masculinity of Breaking Bad represents “standards to die by, not to live by.”

Matt Zoller Seitz suggested that Felina was “an ending that leaves us alone with a mirror.” Perhaps Je Souhaite does something similar through the character of Jenn; she is a living witness to toxic entitlement and masculinity. “The only thing you people are cursed with is stupidity,” she observes. “All of you. Everybody. Mankind. Everyone I have ever come into contact with without fail. Always asking for the wrong thing.”

Sweeping it all under the rug.

Sweeping it all under the rug.

Mulder accuses Jenn of having “a really horrible attitude”, which is a really entitled attitude to adopt towards Jenn. As far as Je Souhaite is concerned, there really is only one right wish to make when confronted with a slave who has spent five hundred years in what amounts to indentured servitude, bearing witness to humanity’s more banal materialist tendencies. The “right wish” is the wish that frees Jenn from a life of corruption and exploitation, where she is treated as an object to be stored away with old (but “very expensive”) furniture.

There is, of course, an element of the same capitalist critique that echoes through Gilligan’s fifth and sixth season scripts like Folie à Deux, Drive and Monday. Jenn is just as victimised and exploited as Gary Lambert, Patrick Crump, or Bernard. (Although she does not respond to that victimsation and exploitation with violence or the threat of violence, but through passive-aggression.) Gilligan is wary of systems that tend to reduce individuals to cogs or functions. The key to Je Souhaite is the moment that Mulder comes to see Jenn as a person rather than an object.

Yes. A solid gold wheelchair.

Yes. A solid gold wheelchair.

Of course, the fact that Mulder does come to see Jenn as a person rather than an object prevents Je Souhaite from ever seeming too bleak or too cynical. It is still pretty grim, beneath all that humour. Mulder really was the first person to think of Jenn as a human being in five hundred years; it does not reflect well on mankind. More to the point, it is a nice character moment for Mulder. Mulder is a character who has often struggled to balance his desire for proof of the paranormal against his empathy for his fellow man.

The show has made a compelling case for both extremes. In Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose, Darin Morgan suggested that Mulder reduced the eponymous character to an X-file; in Oubliette, Mulder’s ability to see Lucy Butler as a person set him apart from local law enforcement. Je Souhaite starts out with Mulder treating Jenn as an X-file, only for Mulder to eventually make the realisation that she is a person on his own terms. There are worse ways to mark Mulder’s departure as a lead character. (Having him beat up Scully is one, for example.)

Wish fulfillment...

Wish fulfillment…

There is something a little interesting (and uncomfortable) about the way that Je Souhaite deals with the characters of Anson and Lesley Stokes. Since moving to California, The X-Files has been more keenly interested in poor whites than it ever was in Vancouver. This is perhaps a reflection of a broader concern with issues of social class in America during these final four seasons of The X-Files – as reflected in scripts focusing on lower class white characters like Monday or even Brand X, but it is interesting to note.

To be fair, the first five seasons occasionally delved into the lives of lower class characters. The Peacock Family in Home might be the most obvious example, but Marty Glenn from Mind’s Eye is perhaps a less stereotypical example. Less prominently than race, class plays into Chris Carter’s script for The List. However, those early years never focused on the issue of class with the same energy as the final four seasons. The show was more likely to focus on distinct subcultures in stories like Fresh Bones, Hell Money, Teliko than to deal with issues of class.

It's like he's not even there...

It’s like he’s not even there…

It is disingenuous to say that The X-Files has been unconcerned with class. The show has just been fixated on a particular class. The conspiracy is essentially the story of a bunch of powerful white men who effectively rule the world and who collaborate against mankind to ensure their own survival. Mulder’s status as a child of privilege has been explored repeatedly over the course of the show’s run; the idea that Mulder’s family marks him out as important, and that he has lived a life of material comfort. However, lower class characters were less common.

When Max Fenig lived in a trailer in Fallen Angel and Max, it was more a statement of the life that he had lead than any marker of social class; he was an outsider as a direct result of what the aliens (or the government) had done to him. In contrast, the trailer inhabited by Anson and Lesley Stokes is very much a marker of class. When the “Rolling Acres RV Camp” appeared in Bad Blood, it was a set-up for a nice gag about vampires “pulling up stakes.” When the “Mark Twain Trailer Court” shows up in Je Souhaite, it is character-establishing detail.

All aboard!

All aboard!

Lower class characters have become more common since the show moved to Los Angeles, ever since Patrick Crump hijacked Mulder’s car in Drive. The portrayals have been broadly been interesting and sympathetic, although there is a recurring sense of conflict in these encounters. In Drive, Mulder is held at gunpoint by a racist and paranoid roofer – forced to drive westward until he reaches the Pacific. In Theef, the successful “Bay Area Doctor of the Year” Robert Wieder finds himself thrown into conflict with the illiterate Orell Peattie.

The script for Signs and Wonders makes this issue of class conflict explicit, with Mulder confronting Reverand Enoch O’Connor about the practices of the Church of God with Signs and Wonders. Reverend O’Connor accuses Mulder of being “proud and fancy free.” He describes Mulder as an “educated man… too smart to know any better.” He warns the agent, “You think because you’re educated you’re better than most? You ain’t.” One of the more unsettling aspects of Signs and Wonders is the sense that Reverend O’Connor might actually be right.

Happy trails...

Happy trails…

There is undoubtedly an “othering” of working class characters in the sixth and seventh season of The X-Files, a show that very consciously and very firmly adopts a middle-class perspective. (This is most obvious in the show’s fascination with suburban anxieties over urban anxieties.) At the same time, the sixth and seventh seasons remain sympathetic to these characters. Patrick Crump is a bigot, but he is also a victim; Bernard’s frustrations are understandable; Orell Peattie is monstrous in a very human way; Enoch O’Connor is ultimately validated.

In fact, the portrayal of Anson and Lesley Stokes in Je Souhaite stands out as perhaps the least nuanced and most stereotypical depiction of working class characters in the sixth and seventh seasons of the show. The episode even turns Lesley’s disability into something of a grim joke, revealing it was the result of an injury sustained playing “mailbox baseball.” Then again, Jenn seems no more or less frustrated by the stupidity of Anson and Lesley than that of Mussolini or Nixon. Stupidity is a human constant.

Photo finish...

Photo finish…

This is interesting in the context of John Doggett, a character who is lurking just around the corner – even if the production team don’t quite know it yet. While Mulder and Scully are both university-educated and middle-class, Doggett is more blue collar. Mulder attended Oxford and Scully studied medicine at Stanford, but Doggett worked in New York City as a member of local law enforcement. It seems like The X-Files became more aware (and interested) in issues of class with the move down to Los Angeles.

However, all of this ultimately feels tangential. The best thing about Je Souhaite is that the episode is fun. Vince Gilligan is perhaps the show’s strongest comedy writer since Darin Morgan, and Je Souhaite is packed to the brim with jokes that work. Gilligan’s humour could occasionally be a bit black, but Je Souhaite is well-observed enough to get away with it. (Again, this is a skill that Gilligan would hone on Breaking Bad, a show that was as blackly cynically comical as it was tense and insightful.)

Painting Scully in an interesting light...

Painting Scully in an interesting light…

Knowing that Je Souhaite might have been his swansong working on the show, Gilligan initially hoped to write a more serious and terrifying episode. However, the script just developed in a more humourous direction:

“I had an image of someone cutting the lock off of a very old self-storage unit and finding something very weird and X-Files inside a dusty, dark, and cold storage unit. I can’t really say how it came about, but it was the idea of someone finding a genie, finally, inside a storage locker, that appealed to me. And I figured at that point, if we’re doing a story about a genie, it’s real hard to make it very serious, really scary or dark. It seems like it’s inherently sort of goofy, the idea of finding a genie, period. The episode just sort of took a life of it… scary or serious.”

While some of the humour in Je Souhaite is pitch black, there is also a playfulness to the story. Je Souhaite is not just a cynical take on the greed and entitlement at the heart of the human experience, it is also a celebration of Mulder and Scully.

What's in store?

What’s in store?

There are lots of lovely moments here. David Duchovny takes rare pleasure in getting to make a reference to Wayne’s World as he explains “chronic morbid tumescence” to the viewers at home. The gag of Mulder drafting a wish as a legal contract is perhaps an old chestnut, but it is also perfectly in keeping with the character’s trademark stubbornness. While Mulder’s decision (in anger) to refer to Jenn as “a b!tch” is not one of the episode’s stronger character moments, it does make good use of a one-scene appearance from Skinner.

However, perhaps the best little character detail is the sheer unrestrained joy that Scully takes in discovering the invisible body of Anson Stokes. Scully’s skepticism has always been an awkward character trait on The X-Files, because it stuck Scully in the strange position of being both entirely rational and frequently incorrect. There were points in the run where it seemed like Scully was objecting to Mulder for the sake of objecting, acting like a cosmic killjoy. Howard Gordon’s scripts for Synchrony or Kaddish come to mind.

Facing the unexplained...

Facing the unexplained…

The seventh season has gotten a little better in its handling of Scully, suggesting that Scully might be transitioning towards a more open-minded approach to the paranormal or the inexplicable. It has been kept largely to the background, playing out in interactions between the pair in shows like Rush or The Goldberg Variation or Theef, but it is a nice character arc. It works in both contexts of season seven – both as a conclusion to Scully’s larger character arc and as a springboard into the eighth season of the show.

Je Souhaite refuses to paint Scully as a killjoy. She is positively delighted when she discovers that he is studying an invisible body. Gillian Anderson’s delight as she sprinkles yellow powder over the transparent form of Anson Stokes is one of the best Scully moments in the entire run, with the short scene where she bids goodbye to the body also standing out. Scully is not actively trying to prove Mulder wrong, she just wants to be able to prove Mulder right. “I have a group of researchers flying in from Harvard Medical,” she boasts gleefully. “Can’t wait to see their faces.”

Just putting his face on...

Just putting his face on…

It is a lovely read on the dynamic between Mulder and Scully, which helps to offset some of the more cynical tendencies in the script as a whole. As bleak as Gilligan might be in his assessment of mankind, he genuinely harbours a lot of love and affection for Mulder and Scully. Je Souhaite is the perfect farewell to this version of the show, one that celebrates the dynamic that exists between the two leads. After all, the changes to the show in the eighth season meant that The X-Files could never quite recapture that dynamic.

Je Souhaite would be a great penultimate episode of The X-Files. In many ways, it is.

You might be interested in our reviews of the seventh season of The X-Files:

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8 Responses

  1. Another great review! I do love that last scene, when the two of them are sharing a drink, and I agree that it does seem to indicate a point of no return, the last of the greatest days of sort (or at least until they are back in January 2016…)

    • It is a delightful episode, one largely forgotten and underrated, I think.

      • Agreed. It is filled with little details–many if not most of which you mentioned in your review–that just add a whole new layer to the episode. Episodes like these also remind us that the writers, directors, and actors know the show rather than just put it together–make sense?

      • Yep, I get that.

        I really love Je Souhaite.

  2. Coming from ‘The Fight Club’ I wasn’t expecting anything from this one, but I was amazed how well this episode was made, in fact this could had been a great conclusive chapter for wrapping up The X-Files.

    These reviews are so good, I wonder if you’re planning to review the 9th season before the january relaunch?…or adding a review of the second movie?

    • The ninth season actually kicked off this week. It’ll finish on January 1st. Anything beyond that is speculative due to outstanding… commitments.

      • I understand, writing something meaningful takes a lot of time.I hope you find the time to add the terrible 2nd movie, to have the complete picture of The X-Files, great job as always, take care.

      • No worries. I’ll definitely be doing the second film (and the comics), but it’s a question of when. There’s something else demanding my attention at this point in time. So I might end up taking January off and returning in February.

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